Review: Fleet-footed ‘Noises Off’ shines in its fluidity, laughs


For many years, Lamb’s Players Theatre employed a year-round ensemble of versatile actors who melded seamlessly in over a hundred plays and musicals.

Those company days may be over, but a crackling new production of “Noises Off” that opened at Lamb’s on Saturday has that same giddy, all-for-one ensemble spirit that the Coronado theater has long been known for.

For Michael Frayn’s hilarious 1982 British farce to work as well as it does in this production, you need a ton of rehearsal time and a tireless nine-member cast with no weak links.

Plus you need a director as good as Lamb’s Robert Smyth, who finds authenticity in the play’s kooky characters, and a movement and fight choreographer like Jordan Miller, who has made all the crazy backstage battles look not only spontaneous but realistic.

“Noises Off” — which is the theater term for backstage noises heard from the wings of a theater — is a play-within-a-play about an ill-fated English theater production that slowly disintegrates on its UK tour, thanks to its distracted cast and crew.

The first act is a sloppy rehearsal for the not-so-good English countryside sex farce “Nothing On,” with the audience watching as flies on the wall.

In the second act, Mike Buckley’s sturdy, smartly conceived two-story set turns around and the audience sees the zany (and almost entirely nonverbal) backstage shenanigans and fisticuffs while “Nothing On” is being quite terribly performed for an unfortunate and unseen audience. Then, the set turns again for the third act and we are the audience for one of the last tour stops for “Nothing On.”

Although the first act feels long, it’s crucial for familiarizing the audience with “Nothing On,” so that they can see how far and fast it can decline when its exhausted actors are preoccupied backstage with sexual affairs, breakups, drunken benders, jealous rages and dropping pants.

As with all good ensembles, every actor in this production contributes equally to the success of the show.

Brian Mackey’s fearless exuberance as the jealous, ax-wielding actor Garry invigorates the wild second act. Jim Chovick is adorably understated a Selsdon, a famous but hard-drinking actor who keeps disappearing with a whiskey bottle.

Deborah Gilmour Smyth bumbles and ultimately crumbles as the aptly named Dotty, who portrays the sardine-toting housekeeper in “Nothing On.”

An endearing Jessica John exhaustively struggles to hold the company together as the sweet-natured leading lady Belinda.

Francis Gercke is wound up hilariously tight as Lloyd, the exasperated director of “Nothing On.” Ross Hellwig is sweetly needy as the heartbroken and nosebleed-prone leading man Frederick, who has a hard time keeping his pants up.

Charlene Wilkinson stays perfectly in character as the clueless ingénue Brooke. Cynthia Gerber is just right as the fragile-nerved stage manager Poppy. And Omri Schein amusingly underplays the role of backstage handyman/understudy Timothy, who appropriately helps Lamb’s stage crew turn the set for each act.

Jeanne Reith designed the ’70s-era costumes and Nathan Peirson designed lighting. The play runs two hours, 10 minutes, with two intermissions.

Although it’s one of the funniest farces in the canon, “Noises Off” hasn’t been produced in San Diego in nearly a decade because it’s hard to cast and rehearse. But that investment is sure to pay off handsomely at Lamb’s box office this spring.

“Noises Off”

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays; 4 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays. Through May 20.

Where: Lamb’s Players Theatre, 1142 Orange Ave., Coronado.

Tickets: About $34-$68

Phone: (619) 437-6000

Online: Twitter: @pamkragen